A Working Waterfront for 170 Years - Whaling Ships to Libertyships to Americas Cup to Matthew Turner Tall Ship


In 1849, one of Richardson's guests , Lt. James McCormick, backed his Navy steam-powered vessel, the Edith, stern in first on to a cove along Sausalito's waterfront at high tide.  When the tide went out, the prop and drive shaft were exposed for repair.  (Many photos on this page are from the Sausalito Historical Society.)


 In 1942, W.A. Bechtel Co. and the United States Maritime Commission created Marinship by destroying the 35 homes in the Pine Hill neighborhood with dynamite and bulldozing the hill to fill Richardson’s Bay.  Not only was a Sausalito neighborhood sacrificed for this temporary shipyard, but the 24/7 schedule of this effort led to the death of workers in industrial accidents during the construction of the Liberty Ships and Tankers.  To the residents of Sausalito, and the nation, Marinship is hallowed ground.   A total of 93 ships were built in 3 1/2 years. Including setting a world record with the SS Huntington Hill, constructed and delivered in 33 days.


In a related effort, Marin City was created to house 6000 workers.  The Marinship Shipyards were the site of incidents that provided a key early milestone in the civil rights movement.  In 1944 in the case of James v. Marinship the California Supreme Court held that African Americans could not be excluded from jobs based on their race, even if the employer took no discriminatory actions. In the case of Joseph James, on whose behalf the suit was brought, the local Boilermakers Union excluded Blacks from membership and had a "closed shop" contract, forbidding the shipbuilder from employing anyone who was not a member of the union. African American workers could join an auxiliary of the union, which offered access to fewer jobs at lower pay. Future US Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall successfully argued the case, winning a ruling that the union be required to offer equal membership to African Americans. The Court extended the ruling to apply explicitly to all unions and all workers in California.


After the war, Sausalito’s waterfront reverted to what it had been, a maritime community of boatbuilders, and light industry.  Eventually, in the 1960’s Sausalito’s waterfront became a draw to a local group of artists, writers, poets and artisans.  Don Arques owned most of the property in northern Marinship.  It was through his generosity that the artist and musicians and craftsman were allowed to live in boats on his property at little or no cost.  He is considered the father of the cultural legacy of maritime craftsman, artists and artisans which has evolved into a community of Dreamers, Doers, Makers, Artists and Artisans. 

In 1891 Matthew Turner built the Galilee, a brigantine tall ship.  After many lives as a trans-Pacific cargo ship, a magnetic observatory, and a fishing vessel, the Galilee came to rest on the shores of Sausalito in 1968.  Here city officials ponder what the next course of action.  

Without an appreciation of the historical significance of she was parted-out.  Her bow is in the Maritime Museum in San Francisco.  Her stern is in the Benicia Historical Museum.  What remains, including her intact rudder lies buried in the mud next to her namesake, Galilee Harbor.

Donlon Arques

By Arnie Gross (Sausalito Historical Society)

The following is excerpted from a 1970s waterfront journal called the Garlic Press.  Arnie Gross was a regular contributor. Donlon Arques was the patriarch of the post-WWII houseboat scene, and a notoriously private and mercurial character:

Donlon Arques is a slightly overweight 68-year-old man with a ruddy face who would pass for being in his mid-fifties. He stands about 6 feet and is always clean shaven and neatly hair-cutted. He wears glasses and has light clear soft twinkly eyes. He often smokes a pipe. He always wears the same comfortable work clothes (black pants and a striped shirt). He was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and as far as I know has never lived outside of California. He learned to row his first boat at the “foot of the Napa Street Pier” when he was six and delivered his first barge from San Francisco to Novato when he was fourteen or sixteen. He knows and loves the waterfront. Not just ours, but all of the West Coast.

He knows most of the barges and maritime machinery and craft that dot our bay and ply our waters. He has a feeling toward machinery such as a poet would have toward words. He once handed me his oil can to oil my bicycle chain and suggested I do so in such a nice way that I actually put other thoughts out of my head temporarily and committed myself to oiling my chain properly and unresentfully.

He is one of the most amiable bullshitters I have ever known, hence lies his charm and amazing knowledge of trivia. He likes people, he likes life, he “likes to eat well, sleep well” and keep clean and organized.

He raises cattle on his ranch up north along with organic vegetables. Most of the time he prefers his own cooking to eating out and I suspect likes to dine alone when he can.

I caught the “old man” (he's often referred to that way by Gate Three old-timers) early one cool Saturday morning in 1974 as he had just fixed something. As we walked up the stairs to his office, he smiled at me and said, “In a cool wind my knees get stiff, but machinery must be serviced.” He went on, “I feel good when I'm building something, I do some of my best thinking then, too.” I figured the “old man” was nice and relaxed, and this be a good time to lay out some questions and have some fun (being that Don has a horrendous reputation for coming out with flip statements about what he is going to do, or not do and then changes his mind, to be misinterpreted, which leaves confusion all over).

I asked, “Why don't you sell out?” He answered, “I'll stick it out. Everybody here is happy.” “What would you like to see here?” Don moanfully answered, “Marine enterprises, there's so little left in the country. ”Then Don looked at me and said: “This place is very valuable, regardless of you or I. Meanwhile all these boys and girls will never forget this place. Seven infants have been born here --” He looked at me in silence as I scratched away at my notes. Moments later he went off to build something.

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